There were a few hours of daylight left when I took advantage of a free evening and made my way to the Wildcat Creek. It felt good stepping off the overgrown bank and into the slow moving water.

It was enjoyable standing there for a moment taking in the sights of unadulterated nature and the sounds of the creek. Slowly making my way upstream to a beautiful pool, I flipped out a soft plastic lure letting it sink to the bottom. On the third cast the line twitches, then moves left. I set the hook and in a few short seconds, what I thought was a smallmouth bass, ends up being a spunky rock bass. I hold it in my hand and admire its unique beauty and tenaciousness.

Rock bass, more commonly called “goggle-eyes,” are frequent inhabitants of our rivers and streams, but also hold good populations in many of our natural lakes. To me, these fish have never received their due credit. Like actors and politicians, fish mark a turning point when they become recognized by the media. Once a fish species catches the fickle eye of the angling public, their rise to stardom comes sure and quick.

We’ve all seen it. News releases heralding tournaments, banquets and conservation projects centered around the ascending fish of the moment flow quicker than water over a riffle.

Think about it. Trout and salmon were the first to make it big. They were quickly followed by the largemouth bass family. For some odd reason smallmouth bass have always taken a backseat to their big-mouthed cousins, when as far as I’m concerned they should sit at the head of the table.

Walleye were next in the national popularity contest. It wasn’t long before crappies rose to the ranks. All of these “big shots” now have organizations dedicated specifically to them, complete with their own TV shows, magazines and tournament circuits. You know they have reached stardom when they even have their own T-shirt distribution network. But what about goggle-eyes?

I have always stood up for the underdogs in life, which is exactly what the rock bass is in the community we call game fish. This is the fish, along with bluegills and bullheads, many of us have cut our angling incisors on.

Over the past several years, crappies have gone “Hollywood.” But bullheads, bluegills and rock bass still remain the Rodney Dangerfields of the fishing world. Even bugle-mouthed carp have a national tournament circuit dedicated specifically to them.

Not a week goes by during the summer where I don’t receive a news release or tournament statistic touting the star qualities of one fish over another. It just makes me more attracted to the forgotten species. If carp have their own tournament circuit, why can’t the same be had for rock bass or bluegills?

These special fish never strain my limited fishing ability. They are always willing to bite and do not make me feel like I am hurting their population when putting several meals worth in a bucket or stringer to take home.

These fish do deserve their own following. They have spread from coast to coast, all on their own, without the help of specialized stocking programs by nationally recognized fish scientists or huge conservation organizations. To me, rock bass purify the purely natural experience we call fishing.

The first fish I ever hooked was a rock bass and I remember it as if it was yesterday. It was the mid 1960s. Although I can’t remember the exact date, I still remember the location on the Mississinewa River and picture the rock I was standing on.

Goggle-eyes are a most obliging fish. They put up a stout fight and can test the limits of any ultra-light rod. They are as brazen as late night telemarketers and will dart out and grab anything that seems edible and even some things that don’t.

When targeting these red-eyed fish all you need is a small, 5- to 6-foot rod spooled with 6-pound line. They will take almost any live bait. On the artificial side, small in-line spinners and jigs have probably taken the most goggle-eyes.

It has been years since I’ve eaten a good mess of goggle-eyes. But given the opportunity I wouldn’t hesitate. Taken from clean waters they rival bluegills in texture and taste.

Yes, there is a special place in my heart for the often maligned rock bass. But even to this day, when frustration gets the best of me spurred by snippety smallmouth bass, which may not only refuse my lures, but criticize them, I can always count on goggle-eyes to gratify and endure!

CATFISH TOURNEY

Soremouth Tackle sponsored a recent catfish tournament staged on Kokomo Reservoir.

“We had a great turnout with 32 teams registering,” said organizer Adam Cardwell.

By luck, Cardwell and Donnie Flynn ended up winning the contest with three fish dropping the digital scales at 10.06 pounds. They also had the biggest fish of the tourney with a channel cat tipping the scales at 4.54 pounds. Second place went to Scott Smith and Bo Cessna with three fish weighing 7.94 pounds. Third place went to Jenna and Daniel Gibbs with three fish topping out at 6.97 pounds.

RESERVOIR TOURNEY

Dennis McKee and Mat Temme came away winners at Monday evening’s Kokomo Reservoir open team bass tourney, sponsored by Cardwell Built Construction and Roby’s Bullseye Outdoor. The winner carried five largemouth bass to the scales sporting a combined weight of 9.01 pounds. Steve Kelley reeled in second place with five fish totaling 8.81 pounds. Third place went to B.J. Butcher with five fish dropping the scales at 8.52 pounds. Truman (Flower Man) Elkins took home the honor for biggest bass with a fish tipping the scales at 3.63 pounds.

DELPHI-DELCO TOURNEY

Wayne Eads and Paul Crowe swept Tuesday’s Delphi-Delco bass tourney, held on Mississinewa Reservoir, with three fish totaling 7 pounds, 3 ounces. They also had the tourney’s big bass with a largemouth tipping the scales at 4 pounds, 3 ounces. Second place went to Bob Rose and Wayne Nolder with three bass weighing 5 pounds. Keith Milburn and Ed Lyke rounded out third place with two fish weighing 2 pounds, 12 ounces.

John Martino is the Tribune's outdoors columnist. He may be reached by email at jmartinooutdoors@att.net.

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